Before you winos get up in arms, a bit of a disclaimer - I love wine. I love wine with my food. In fact, I prefer wine with food. Taking two different components, seemingly disparate, and pairing them together to create a third, mind-blowing flavor. It's not a compromise of two tastes so much as the birth of a new star. A supernova flavor bomb that makes you go "wow, that's what food is all about."
But it's not wine alone that can create such an experience. Here's where the wino rage might come in. Beer is unbelievably good with food, too. I'm not talking post-hike thirst-quenching PBR-reaching moments. We are talking beer made as expertly as the most prize bottle of wine by people who can wax poetic about microbes, yeasts, and fermentation.
Beer and food pairings are brilliant. Beer + Cheese = Liquid bread to meld with the kaleidoscope of flavors to be gotten from goat's, sheep's, and cow's milk. Beer + Chocolate = Another reason to chuck overpowering red wines, especially with good dark chocolate. Beer + Food in general = A revelation.
Quality matters here. (Quantity is another discussion to be had since beer is equated with frat house decadence and mind erasing shenanigans.) The beer whether you call it craft brew, microbrew, home brew - it's made because it tastes good (and yes, it sells) and is awesome by its lonesome and magically wondrous with food.
Same goes for the food. Granted, a good drink can even turn a greasy spoon burger into a milestone meal (cue that scene from "Sideways" where Miles ditches his bestie's wedding reception to crack open his cherished bottle of red to drink from a styrofoam cup with a diner burger) but good food and good drink make for foolproof good times.
Some restaurants are getting into this notion, even in Utah (home of great craft brewers, FYI). Even in Utah County. Communal Restaurant hosted quite possibly the city of Provo's very first beer pairing dinner. Epic Brewing Company was along to pair with dishes and in some cases (as with a stour jam for a meltingly good pork belly) be the ingredients in the dishes themselves.
The pairings were stellar, subtle, and complex. The crowd dug it. As should you. Catch a beer pairing dinner in your neck of the woods or try that Schneider Weisse Hefeweizen with some Thai take out or curry made from scratch. Or an Epic Pumpkin Stout with a spice cake. If you've taken wine pairing courses, the fundamentals are the same.
One caveat: Just as the wine world has the wine douche that can irritate a crowd like a corn flake caught in your throat, the craft beer world is full of them, too. If you think wine snobs are insufferable, just brace yourself for the craft beer douche as he talks about his own "phenomenal" home brewing experiments, his favorite breweries you've never heard of and yet manages to order an oatmeal stout before A BEER PAIRING DINNER wherein the first course is a beautiful light pickled peach salad with candied mustard paired perfectly with a saison.
He's a connoisseur don't you know? Nothing to do but shrug and sip the saison and take another bite of peach.
One of my favorite food books is Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin. Not so much a cookbook versus a collection of essays that serves as a salve for anyone who feels alone in a plethora of recipes, entertaining tips and other general advice on tablewear and decor you'll never use.
Laurie Colwin talks to you and with you about cooking. Successes and failures. Foolproof, straightforward dishes and ways to elevate them depending on who's coming over for dinner. Some of her recipes didn't turn out well, but I can't hold it against her. The accompanying essay nourished me enough. The title of this post is also the title of one of my favorite chapters in the book and more recently, the title for another modern cookbook. In honor of Ms. Colwin, her writing and her recipes with varying degrees of success, I played alone in the kitchen with an eggplant. This is what happened.
There are those with their secret paths, their weather pattern forecasts, their barometers AKA bad knees, and secret language of trees.
And there is me who cares not for mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, and the like. I still have yet to grasp why I would pay hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to go through terrain I can damn well travel through on my own two feet. With shoes. It makes me go slow. It doesn't make feel like an awkward, uncoordinated git which I usually am. (True story, I recently rolled my ankle walking down my STAIRS).
And it allows me to pay attention to the leaves, the dirt, the sky, and sometimes I see things that I like to eat. Sometimes I bring them home. Other times I just gather them because they are gorgeous and mysterious.
Some people call this foraging. I call it walking with benefits. Someone asked me how I forage. My answer: "Fuck if I know. I just go for a walk."
I'm not ashamed to admit that I have a thing for boxed macaroni and cheese. I've had since I was the mini sumo wrestler 2nd grader who looked forward to mom fixing up Velveeta shells and cheese or the Kraft cheese and macaroni. The "cheese" came first because it was supposed to be so cheesy. When you're 7 and demanded the caloric intake of a 6' 7" athletic superstar it was just that. I couldn't get enough. When my mom would place a modest portion in front of me I'd look at her indignantly.
"Where's the rest?" I'd ask in my best squeaky Korean.
"You can have that and save the rest for later," my mother would plead, willing the obesity out of me.
We talk passionately about vine-ripened tomatoes and the tender peaches whose juices run down our chins and arms. But what of corn? Especially when it's whole, intact on what we call the cob. Corn for the most part has come up in news and current events in the form of high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified crops for animal feed. Gourmet.com even weighed in, with transcripts from editors on whether or not corn is a bad thing.
For me, it's a no brainer. Corn on the cob is just as valuable to me as the heavy Brandywine, deep purple raspberries or juicy Suncrest peaches. I can't imagine a warm season without it. Along with my love of automotive self-autonomy, my love of corn is rather patriotic. Most of the world sees it as a grain to grind and transformed into delicious flatbreads or simply as fodder for swine and other animals. Speaking purely from a glutton's point of view, they're missing out. If anyone insists on debating corn's ethical place in the food chain, let's talk it over a grilled cob or two.
Certain recipes are versatile in that they adapt themselves to life. Mood dictates everything. At least for me, it influences my cravings and what I choose to tinker with in the kitchen. These recipes aren't long, sordid affairs. On the contrary, it's usually a flash of activity to clear the mind or work out the latest bout of angst.
The motions of chopping, pounding, sauteeing, stirring help; but it's also the scents working up your nose and the prospect of seeing something through to the end, at which point, it's time to feed yourself something good. The fruits of your labor also serve as the consolation prize or a friendly offering to a lover, friends and guests.
There's the saying that you eat with your eyes. Nowhere is it more true in times of self-imposed ascetism, balancing out the bouts and binges of all the things we love to love in excess.
Some call it a diet. Others doll up the word "diet" with intended feelings of well-being/smugness and call it a "cleansing." Whatever the title, often, it's an integral part to eating and living. The spring clean was a long time ago, as my kitchen attests. But every so often between my lusty affairs with bacon and butter, my heart calls out for crisp precise bites of verdant things.
It's been bothering me for weeks that people take an important discussion like the one Francis and I had, then reduce it to "whether white chefs can cook ethnic food" or to conclude that at the end of the day "taste is what matters". The Marcus article was an extension and it was fun to see how people danced around the actual challenge in the article for dominant cultural food editors/writers to hit the pavement and find more voices of color. Maybe for once put a voice on the soap box even if it's threatening...
America is an adversarial society. Whether we want to accept it or not, the good guys don’t always win. Biggie was right, “it’s an every day struggle.” Your life begins as an American when you recognize and accept that nothing you have will be given to you; it’s taken. Notice I said “taken” and not “earned”. You can’t trust that for said amount of work you’ll get said amount of pay. It just never happens. If you want to make sure you get what you deserve: take it.
When you bring your cultural goods to market, expect someone to try and take it from you, especially the dominant culture because they can. The only way to come up is to defend the things you have and learn to take for yourself. Offense is the best defense. Look at all the inspirations we’ve had as 80s babies. Barack - took the youth vote and micro donors; Fab Five - disrespected every thing about collegiate sports, rejected white socks/short shorts, took booster money, and peace’d; Brooklyn - like BDP said, “Manhattan keeps on makin’ it, Brooklyn keeps on takin’ it.” As much as I love Francis Lam, his ideas about aspiring to “join” America lead to the loss of your culture and Indian Casinos. What if the Tea Party wins and that bullshit definition of America rules? You want to be a member then? Sometimes you shouldn’t respect the other side because it’s wrong #Newsroom. The only America that matters is yours... but you’ll have to fight for it.
Check out a discussion on the food scene in Utah - restaurants, farmers, ranchers, home cooks, and more. Local radio station KRCL hosted myself, chef Adam Kreisel of Chaia Cucina, Ted Scheffler of City Weekly, and the lovely Becky Rosenthal of SLC Foodie & SLC Mixers for an hour-long conversation. We talked food. We took calls. And along with bad ass host Bad Brad Wheeler, we decided that things in our fair state are quite tasty. For real.
Generally speaking, I have a fear of baking. Call it performance anxiety; I do have a cadre of gorgeous goddesses of pastry that often supply me with delicate shortbreads, rich cakes and other confections to last me three lives. They make the goods, I happily eat them. I'm like those feeder fish that hang out with the sharks. "Don't mind me," I say, my mouth full of Valrhona chocolate brownies. "I'm just along for this delicious ride. [munch munch munch] Are those almond croissants?"
Like any self-centered person, I tend to avoid things that make me look bad. Hence, the baking fear. The last batch of brownies I made were absolute poo. But biscuits and I have always had a way with each other. Biscuits understand my impatience and temperamental nature. They are the easy-going yin to my anxiety-drenched yang. Biscuits don't ask me to leave them alone for an hour or three to do it's thing because it's ready now. Put me in the oven, damn it. Let's get this show on the road.
Feta biscuits are at once simple and intriguing for the fact that you not only get to sink your teeth into the butter-based dough, but also taste the sharp white cheese.
My father used to call me "melon head" (rather its Korean equivalent). To this day, I'm not sure if it's because of the sheer size of my noggin or my intense love of the ripe juicy fruit. One of the few photos of me as a kid shows me in a cotton summer dress, fat rolls bulging out the bodice seam, with my hair pulled back after a day playing with the hose. I'm sitting atop the small dark wood dining table, my feet facing my paternal grandmother who under normal circumstances I was dreadfully afraid of. But I called a truce on my fear because we were both feasting on fat slices of juicy watermleon.
When it comes to food production, animal welfare is our welfare. There, I said it. And yeah, I buy local free-range eggs from a local person. If I had a backyard, I'd raise my own. Call me a hippie, but at least I'm not throwing the dice with rotting chicken carcasses, chicken shit, and salmonella.